Spinzilla 2015

October 16, 2015

I participated in Spinzilla last week for the first time. Spinzilla is a week long, international competition organised by the National NeedleArts Association, a US industry group which promotes knitting, crochet, spinning, weaving and various kinds of needlework. For one week, as part of a team (usually a fibre shop or publishing group) or by yourself (spinning ‘rogue’), you spin as much as you can, tally your yardage and submit your results. You can win prizes for most spun and your entry fee, a modest $10 USD goes to the NeedleArts Mentoring Program educating young children in needlecraft skills. This year 1754 spinners participated.

IMG_1600I don’t normally join things like this. I don’t normally join things…period. I did my first KAL (knit along) only last year and only when I was specifically invited and led gently by the hand. Thanks to that single invitation from MySister’sKnitter, I have got braver and more participatory. I have tried a number of KALs now and am currently part of FiberTrek’s Shackleton CAL and the Knit British Swatch-Along. In fact, it was being part of the Shackleton CAL that prompted my Spinzilla venture. Shackleton is all about embarking on an epic feat of fibre related endurance and my feat is conquering my fear of the woollen long draw, spinning up all the fleeces I currently have and turning them into something useful and beautiful.

IMG_1607The emphasis of Spinzilla is on mileage and that is quite freeing when learning a new technique. Learning by doing and doing alot is so useful when you are trying to train your fingers to do other than what they are used to. Kim Werker also took part this year. In her book Make it Mighty Ugly she recommends shifting your ideas of beauty and perfection to make room for creativity and learning. This was also her approach to participating in Spinzilla as someone new to spinning. She wrote,

There’s no sense trying to learn how to do something new, or trying to get better at doing something you already know how to do, if you’re simultaneously trying to nail it on the first go. On paper that’s a no-brainer, but in practice it can be a hard walk to walk. Spinzilla is a gift of dedicated time. It’s just one week, so it’s not a stressful gift. But it’s long enough that daily practice can make a serious impression.

So I’m here to champion the mess. I’ll go so far as to encourage you to make as big a mess as you can. Like the fifty pounds of clay people, let’s go for the learning and productivity that come with a focus on quantity over perfection.

This is not quantity over quality, but practice over perfection. So with this in mind, armed with a shed-load of prepared fibre and chanelling a fair few woollen spinning youtube vids, I spun my little heart out. Well, actually I spun my heart out in the very limited time available to me between kid bedtime and my bedtime. The time did seem limited but a week of dedicated spinning activity added up to 2007 yards/ 1835 metres of spinning. I found this very heartening.

And that is perhaps the other lesson of participating in Spinzilla…just concentrating on spinning, not preparing, not knitting, just spinning. By preparing all my fibre ahead of time, carding rolag upon rolag in the weeks leading up to Spinzilla, I could just spin for a week, concentrating on getting that technique of the long draw really working.

IMG_1603At the end of the week I had spun up 25 grams of silver Romney from a sample batt from Romney Ridge Farm in Maine, USA; 125 g of white Finnsheep from Fairfield Finns and a bobbin’s worth of dark grey Polwarth from Tarndie.com, both local Victorian farms. The Finnsheep was the first fleece I bought I think and I have been using bits of it for the last 7 years. It is now all spun up. The Polwarth is almost as old but I have barely made a dint in it. More spinning required!

IMG_1611Other things I learned:

  • A good fleece is even more important in woollen spinning than worsted. Flicking and combing remove second cuts, noils and vegetation in a way that carding does not. Unless you want to be stopping very often to pick out bits in your singles, start with a good clean fleece and pick your locks carefully.
  • It is easier to spin a scoured fleece woollen than in the grease. The Finnsheep fleece was washed but unscoured, the grease made the fibres stick together and clump. The Polwarth had been scoured but not very well (it was my first go at scouring) and I noticed how easily the spinning went when the rolag was free of grease, like a fluffy cloud. The Romney was scoured and almost spun itself, despite being my first go at the long draw.
  • I need to move a little faster in drafting my singles. Looking at the washed and scoured skeins now, I can see that the singles are slightly over spun.
  • The woollen preparation and spinning is remarkably different to the worsted style. This is springy and airy and a lot less lustrous than the worsted style using the same fibres. Of course, I know this to be the case intellectually but to see and feel the difference in hand spinning is quite a remarkable insight.

Did anyone else do Spinzilla this year or previous years? What did you think worthwhile from participating? What are your thoughts on the bulk preparation, single focused production approach to getting through a big project?


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  1. Wow, epic quantity of spun yarn! And despite what you said about just doing it and not worrying about the quality, it looks amazing. Good idea to just focus on one job for a week and work on that only.

  2. What a tremendous challenge. I love what Kim Werker wrote. This could be applied to most any creative endeavor or skill one says they want to learn. It is the old adage of practice, practice, practice and I am all about thinking something and falling short on the practice, the down and dirty act of doing. Your yarn looks wonderful to me and you learned so much. You are very inspiring to me and I love learning “mentally” what you are doing. I thought I would like to learn to spin, but very quickly gave up with a spindle and finding out how spinning was only one aspect, then plying was another! Joanie

  3. Getting all your wool ready to spin is probably the biggest task. After that you can just sit back, relax and spin. I worry about long draw pilling but it is so airy and fluffy. I generally just default to worsted but should be like you and practice, practice, practice!! Your wool is lovely!!! Let me know what you plan to do with it

  4. Unfortunately, spinning is only something I’ve tried very, very briefly. However, your yarn looks wonderful and the natural shades are beautiful. What a great treat to be able to spend a whole week (albeit in small chunks of time) concentrating and improving a particular skill. Well done!

  5. Spinning vicariously through you , Rebecca. Your notes almost had me taking up the craft, but I’m on a kick to perfect what I do and use what I have, so new crafts are on the back burner.

    Here is a post I will return to when perfection’s snout takes a bite out of the joy of learning.

  6. Your yarns look lovely, Rebecca. I especially like the concept of practice over perfection. I shall definitely try Spinzilla next year.

  7. It’s very interesting to read what you say and the comments above – I sense a reluctance that I share to embark on so much commitment! But – hey – it’s only a week as you say, and I can see that gives you a sort of “changed time” in which you have permission to really focus on the spinning. I did think of doing
    Spinzilla – decided I was too busy with other things (ridiculous – I’m retired!). But I think I should re-think this for next year because I can see so clearly from your post that there are all sorts of benefits of such a focused short-term project. Hmmm – food for thought, and planning.

  8. Your yarns look absolutely beautiful! I love hearing about your Spinzilla adventures and you’ve got me eager to get in some practice with my own long draw. I never thought of Spinzilla as a practice week but I love the idea, and the quote, so much that I think I may have to give this a try next year.

  9. OH, never joined any of the groups you mentioned…too busy! I had to laugh at Katherine’s comment, I’m retired!! Me too but felt like a Hamster on a wheel this week. Don’t care for long draw, probably because I don’t do it well!! Although that’s what I do on the great wheel with pencil roving so….. Most of my spinning is
    worsted or a combination of the 2. I have a lot of prepared roving on hand so may just give it a try…AFTER I finish spinning my Ryeland (worsted lace wt). Isn’t everything ‘after’ I do this or that ?
    I case I forget I really enjoyed your back and forth with Marilyn F (a friend of mine from CA) and Barbro’s Threads…those wheels made me want to go out and buy a can of paint, HA

  10. Another great inspirational post …. I have no idea how to do long draw woollen spinning but you have prompted me to dust off my beautiful spinning wheel and start spinning again. Your spinning does look so airy and light, I wonder what you will create with this magical yarn? Yes, preparation is everything freeing yourself up – just wheel, spinner and fleece, a trio.

    Prompted by your writing I am embarking on my own Shackleton Endeavour… hopeless at joining things so I am solo. Dyeing skeins of yarn with whatever is around me at the moment. Sneaking in a few black beans, and some madder which I am going to allow myself. The idea is to knit a cardigan in my own naturally dyed yarn. I have no green or blue as yet and I am tempted to cheat… after all, who is going to tell me off? Me?

  11. I LOVE the idea of practice over perfection. I have never summed it up so well, but this is something I have become better at over time, and I can see very clearly how feeling you have to get it perfect first time is a profound barrier to learning., Cheering your woollen spinning on 🙂

  12. Good on you for participating in Spinzilla! I love the idea of KAL’s but I’m terrible at maintaining momentum. Looking forward to following along with your Shackleton quest too.

  13. Beautiful yarn Rebecca!!! This already is a voyage unto itself. You have inspired me to join Spinzilla next year. I love the idea of the preparation before hand so you can just spin. I need to read Kim Werker. Every time i’ve tried long draw, i try a few ghastly times and then i give up! Congratulations on mastering the scary long draw. Its been too long since i have sat down at my wheel and just spun. I’m yearning for it right now. Thankyou!!

  14. I agree with many of your points about Spinzilla. The week-long contest enables the spinner to focus on — spinning! And practice, practice, practice is the only way to improve any skill, fibery or otherwise. Careful preparation of fiber is a very important part of the spinning process. The cleaner and better the prep, whether it was roving or top, the better (and quicker) my spinning. I’m too obsessive, I cannot prevent myself from stopping to pick out a noil or piece of hay from fiber whilst spinning, so good prep beforehand is essential. Some spinners don’t like to do their own fiber prep, but I find it helpful, relaxing, and rewarding.

  15. Love the idea of championing the mess in the name of learning! On my printmaking course I find myself often falling into doing what I already know because I want it to turn out just so. Though I’m also turning out a lot (Polly’s in production mode again, a tutor said last week) and I guess that’s learning by doing.

    1. I think that going back to what you know is what we are driven to do. It is hard to unlearn and try things a new way, particularly when we are invested in the end result. I have a sense I will need to do a lot of letting go in my spinning course, embracing the mess to learn the technique. But you are right, sheer volume creates spaces for nuancing skills in various ways.

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